Today is the first day of spring. Many of you reading this probably didn’t know that. It hasn’t been a headline, and so few are going outside that, for them, it may as well be winter. But, as I was walking across our little churchyard I noticed that, indeed, there were flowers blooming, lifting their little, diversely colored petals to the light of the sun. It’s interesting how something so small can stop me in my tracks and lead me to contemplation.
It is quite easy in times like these to be so engrossed with the ugliness of the fallen creation that we forget that even now it bears the marks of its eternally beautiful Creator. Thus, it is all the more important that we spend some time daily immersed in the beauty all around us.
For a Christian, paying attention to beauty and giving thanks to the God Who made it all is just as much an act of worship as singing a song or preaching a sermon. Consider the considering psalmist, our dear brother, King David:
“When I look [the Hebrew word here has numerous possible translations; in the given context, it is likely better translated “consider” as in the King James Version] at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4
Considering beauty is also, I think, what many would term a “spiritual discipline.” Like any discipline, it is something that for the most part doesn’t come naturally. It’s not that Christians don’t have a capacity for beauty, but do they daily work to expand that capacity? Do we “consider” the firmament above and the earth beneath, the flowers of the field and the high majestic trees of the neglected forests? Are our hearts thrilled by the creative works of the Creator and His created creators? Do we spend time floating upon the gently rolling rhymes of the poet? Are we captivated by the colors that first captivated the artist?
Lately, it has been easier to simply forego this discipline and be wholly absorbed in the fearful predictions we see in the media. Certainly we should take the crisis seriously, but let us ask ourselves a question, and let us be honest – Is beauty extinguished because of the current crisis? If yes, then perhaps we have cause to be depressed; and if there is no beauty in the world, what is life but one long exercise in ugly despair until we reach the beauty of the hereafter? If no, well, then, get to work! Be about the business of beauty! Smell the flowers! See the colors! Hear the winds setting the trees to dance! Look upon the beauty of creation, and give thanks – or, if it be your vocation, praise the Lord in your arts!
I am a pastor, and to me God has given the cura animarum, the “care of souls”; as your pastor, as your doctor, I prescribe beauty. Take in as much as you want, as often as you can. You’ll know the medicine is working when the praises of our God issue from your heart and are expressed with fervor from your lips! And if you are to drink the purest elixir, I commend to you the Source of all beauty, as He has revealed Himself in the gospel of Jesus Christ!
To get you started, as it were, here are a few poems I’ve found helpful in my own discipline of beauty-seeing:
“The Peace of Wild Things”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
(from Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012), 79.)
“An Idle Hour”
Sauntering at ease I often love to lean
Oer old bridge walls and mark the flood below
Whose ripples through the weeds of oily green
Like happy travellers mutter as they go
And mark the sunshine dancing on the arch
Time keeping to the merry waves beneath
And on the banks see drooping blossoms parch
Thirsting for water is the day’s hot breath
Right glad of mud drops plashed upon their leaves
By cattle plunging from the steepy brink
While water flowers more than their share receive
And revel to their very cups in drink
Just like the world some strive and fare but ill
While others riot and have plenty still.
-John Clare, from Bird Poems
I threatened to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might.
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, ev’n to trust in him, was also his:
We must confess, that nothing is our own.
Then I confess that he my succour is:
But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought. I stood amazed at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.
-George Herbert, from The Temple